Personal servers simplify remote work

New wave of USB devices let users carry their PC wherever they go.

A new way to work from anywhere is emerging. Rather than access data and applications remotely on your workstation or company servers, now you can carry your personal desktop around with you on a specialized USB flash drive and host it on any PC.

Sometimes called personal servers, microservers, pocket servers or USB appliances, these devices let companies reduce the number of laptops they support, let network executives better manage how end users access data.

Another benefit is improved endpoint security; some devices check untrusted systems for malicious code such as key loggers, and when the user is finished working, leave no trace on the system. They're easy to roll out, as most don't require a server installation.

For end users, personal servers make it easy to work from any system safely without having to lug around a laptop or worry about making network connections. They also can be used for data backup. The flash drive market is expected to more than double its $1.4 billion in revenue this year to $2.9 billion by 2008, according to Gartner.

At NetWorld+Interop, four companies - Forward Solutions, Key Computing, RedCannon Security and Realm Systems - each put a different spin on the idea. Three are targeting large companies; Forward Solutions' Migo aims at the small business market, firms with 50 to 200 users.

Migo

MigoFirst launched in October, Forward Solutions' Migo lets users replicate data, mail accounts and desktop settings such as wallpaper, icons and favorites onto any Windows machine.

To set up Migo, users install a client on the workstation then select which resources and data files and folders they want to save within a particular time period - for example within Outlook, in-box messages within the last month. As you select data, the software lets you keep an eye on the amount of storage used. You also can include and exclude data by file type.

Migo only works with Outlook, but not Outlook Express or other POP3 e-mail clients. There are two layers of password protection, in software and in the hardware's firmware. When a user plugs in the Migo drive and logs on, the device automatically synchronizes e-mail accounts, updates data files and checks online for firmware and software updates. The current USB 1.1 versions include 128M bytes and 256M bytes of flash memory and cost $150 and $200, respectively. The upcoming 1G-byte version will cost less than $350, and a wristwatch Migo is in development.

Xkey

Key Computing announced Xkey 2.0 Exchange Edition, which provides users their full Exchange messaging environment and data on any system. The device includes a 32-bit microprocessor and runs a full Exchange client, a database for securely storing Exchange data and a synchronization engine, so the host system doesn't need to run an Outlook client. Xkey synchronizes directly with the Exchange server behind the firewall using HTTP/Secure HTTP.

Xkey 2.0Key Computing is positioning Xkey as a more secure alternative to Outlook Web Access. Using Web Access, sensitive information can be left behind on the untrusted PC, key loggers can capture passwords or data and authentication from an untrusted source is weak. Web Access is vulnerable to open browser sessions and cached information.

When the device is plugged into a host PC, Xkey blocks malicious spyware applications and wipes all Web browser traces. It employs two-factor authentication and the datastream encrypted with a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) VPN.

Xkey 2.0 Exchange Edition supports both USB 1.1 and 2.0, and comes in 256M-byte and 512M-byte versions, which cost $300 and $400, respectively. A 1G-byte version is available by request.

Fireball KeyPoint

Security software company RedCannon showed its upcoming USB device, the Fireball KeyPoint, which is expected to ship next month. Billed as a secure mobility appliance, KeyPoint also scans the system for adware, spyware, Trojans and key loggers. If anything is found, it alerts users to the type and severity, and gives them the option to continue or end the secure session, during which they can download e-mail and data.

The device includes an ARM 7 processor and provides 128-bit data encryption and an SSL VPN connection. Future versions will support authentication. As with the others, users can download files and e-mail onto the device. The 256M-byte version will cost $150; the price for the 512M-byte version is not yet announced.

Realm Key

Realm Systems unveiled its Realm Key, which the company says will ship late this year. Realm's USB 1.1 device, the Mobile Microserver, works with the SOBA Web Services Router, which includes management applications to control and deploy thousands of pocket servers. (SOBA stands for service-oriented business architecture.) Truly a full PC on a keychain, the Realm Key packs an embedded operating system, 400-MHz processor and 256M-bytes of flash memory with a Secure Digital expansion slot for another 1G byte. The device will include an Outlook-like e-mail client, full Web browser, CRM software, file backup and management, and collaboration tools, even a full office productivity suite.

The Realm Key will synchronize files automatically and launch applications directly. It also will support Web services and Web-enabled legacy applications. An "instant on" feature lets you unplug from the host system and then plug back in later right where you left off. It works with Windows, Macintosh and Linux desktops. There are also slots for Secure Digital expansion and a Wi-Fi connection. The SOBA router is a rack-mounted router that manages pocket services, provides XML security for Web services, monitors Web services, and provides content filtering and Web services routing. It will include a wizard for discovering, configuring and securing the devices.

The company will begin beta-testing this summer and ship at fall Comdex. Pricing and availability information is not yet available.

Pocket players

The first wave of USB personal servers is coming to market. Here’s a snapshot:
Company/URLProductFeatures
Forward SolutionsMigoAccess to data, Microsoft Outlook, replicates desktop environment of any Windows PC. Geared to small offices.
Key ComputingXkey 2.0 Exchange EditionFull Exchange client access, blocks spyware, wipes browser traces.
RedCannonFireball KeyPointCreates safe computing environment on untrusted systems, stores downloaded POP3 e-mail.
Realm SystemsRealm KeyFull Web server provides access to Web applications, includes office suite, e-mail client and CRM applications.
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